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Fall 2013 Apple predictions

2013-09-03

If you’re an Apple nerd, I’m sure you’re as excited as I am about this fall. They used to make product releases throughout the year, but not this time. Aside from minor tweaks and the Haswell MacBook Air, we’ve got nothing so far.

I thought it would be interesting to take what we know — the leaks, the rumors, external roadmaps and Apple’s historic choices — and try to predict what they release, with what features, using what technologies and for how much.

Let’s jump right in:

iPhone

iPhone 5S

I had a hard time figuring out what iPhone 5S could realistically feature to be significantly better than the 5. All previous models had a very strong selling point: iPhone 3G replaced the original iPhone, was cheaper and had a 3G radio; 3GS was much faster; 4 had a stunning Retina display; 4S was much faster and had a better camera; and iPhone 5 was again much faster and also much nicer. What’s 5S’s selling point?

If you remember the iPhone 3GS keynote, S was meant to stand for speed. And it did matter, because iPhone 3G was seriously under-powered. And so was iPhone 4. But the 5 isn’t, as it also doubled the CPU and GPU performance. There just isn’t a need to make it faster, not yet.

“But if it’s not faster, what’s going to make it worth choosing over iPhone 5?” — so I thought. As a nerd I’m biased towards performance and overestimate its impact on purchasing decisions. In reality, most people don’t care, as long as it’s not slow.

Sure, there needs to be something that makes 5S better, but it doesn’t need to be a whole lot — iPhone is optimized for subsidized markets, and when you’re signing up for a $2000 phone contract, the upfront difference between a $100 phone and a $200 phone isn’t that big. I imagine that for most people new colors, a better camera and the mere fact that it’s a new phone are enough.

And for everyone else, for seemingly everyone in the internet, nothing Apple does this year will keep them from being very disappointed. Just like with 4S and with the 5. And yet 5S will be quickly announced to be the best-selling iPhone ever. Just like 4S and 5.

Either way, here are my predictions:

iPhone 5

Last year’s phone, sold for $550 (or $100 subsidized), in 16GB version only. We know how it works.

iPhone 5C

Here’s the problem with selling a two-year-old phone: it’s going to be slow. iPhone 4 is still a very nice, high-quality, premium phone, as it was in 2010. But its guts are subpar. They were fine when the phone was released (and we were too much in awe of the Retina display to complain), but now the A4 gives iPhone 4 bad rep.

The point is: a fast phone with cheaper enclosure, display and camera is a better deal than a high-quality phone that’s simply slow.

iPhone 4/4S

Both are out. The 4 is now old and slow, and while 4S is still a pretty good phone, how awkward would it be to sell a nice, glass and steel (albeit old) phone cheaper than a plastic one (even if they were able to)? Also, it would suck to still sell old devices using the 30-pin connector and the 3.5″ display.

iPod

iPod shuffle and nano

Other than the possible update of enclosure colors to better match those of iPhone 5C, I don’t expect any changes here.

It’s ridiculous that iPod shuffle only has 2GB of storage, given that 3rd generation Shuffle had a 4GB model and the price difference for Apple is literally $1-2, but since they haven’t done a 4GB Shuffle in 4 years, they probably won’t do one this year either.

iPod classic

To be discontinued. It’s been 6 years since its release. When Classic was introduced, iPhone was still a novelty available only in US and Android as we know didn’t even exist yet. World changed so much since then.

Today, there is only one good reason for its existence: it has more space than any other iPod by a long shot (160GB vs 64GB on the top iPod touch) while being fairly cheap ($250 vs $400 for the top Touch). Still, how many people want 160GB of music in their pocket (or car)? I think not many, especially considering how much better the Touch (and any modern smartphone) is at everything else. Yes, there still will be people who want this much, but it’s a tiny and shrinking market for Apple.

iPod touch

I was very surprised last year that Touch carried the same display as the iPhone 5, since it’s a very expensive part. What I think Apple should have done is use a lower-quality panel (still IPS, just not as good) and a standard touchscreen. The device would be a bit thicker and the screen would be a bit worse, but it would still be great, and Apple would be more willing to put those saved bucks into, say, upgrading RAM to 1GB.

If they haven’t done that last year, though, they won’t downgrade the device this year. They could if they were to release a new, redesigned model with other features better, but that’s not going to happen either.

I’d also love to see the silly Loop dropped. They didn’t include it in the 16GB model (which was released later), so it’s probably going to be dropped with the next redesign. (But again, Apple wouldn’t make a downgrade like that now without a good justification).

And given that, not that much will change:

One note as for the 16GB model. I don’t know if you remember, but iPod touch used to cost $200. After last year’s upgrade, though, it starts at $230 (most likely because of the expensive display). It’s unusual and rather awkward for Apple to have the 16GB model $70 cheaper than the 32GB one (and not $100). I think Apple would like to get back to the old price and will keep selling last year’s 16GB Touch to achieve that. Only the 32, 64 and the new 128GB models will get a new CPU.

iPad

iPad 5

iPad 2

Will be discontinued. It now makes up less than 10% of all iPad units sold. Not surprising — Mini is much nicer and $70 cheaper (and if you want a big screen, iPad 4 is way better).

One note though, Apple will probably keep selling iPad 2 to educational institutions (big iPad is probably a better tool for the job than Mini, and Apple has a long history of providing otherwise-discontinued or even-lower-end models to education).

iPad mini

The problem Apple faces in the tablet market is that its horizontal competitors — Amazon and Google — sell them at cost. (Amazon is trying to make money on content and Google is trying to gain foothold for Android on tablets.) Look at the new Nexus 7. It has 2× the CPU performance, 4× as much RAM and 2.5× as many pixels as the current iPad mini. Oh, and it costs $100 less. That is some serious competition.

Granted, specs were never what made people buy Apple products, but still — the new Nexus has a nicer display, it’s faster and at that price, it just makes iPad mini look bad.

Hardware is where Apple makes its money, though, so we’re not going to see a Mini that would compete on price and specs. Instead, we’ll see two models: one competing on price, one competing on specs.

last year’s iPad mini

iPad mini with Retina display

Mac

Retina MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

To be discontinued. Remember the plastic white MacBook? You could see its end on the horizon when Apple released the second generation of MacBook Air in 2010 and priced it starting at $999. MacBook was killed next year when MBA was updated to Sandy Bridge.

Expect the same strategy with MacBook Pro. When the Retina MBP is updated to Haswell this fall, the classic MBP will be discontinued. It’s about time.

iMac

Here’s my problem with the current iMac: I think it’s quite pathetic to pay $1300 for a computer, in 2013, and not get an SSD. Worse than that, get a 5400rpm hard drive. That’s actually a downgrade from 2009-era iMac, which had a faster 7200rpm hard drive. Yes, a 2.5″ HDD allows for a thinner enclosure and 5400rpm means that it doesn’t introduce vibrations to iMac’s delicate structure — but at what cost? Making a desktop computer thinner (as if it made a difference on the desk) at the expense of worsening the already biggest performance bottleneck in the computer deserves slapping a “form over function” label on it.

So you want an SSD-equipped iMac. The cheapest option you can get now is a 1TB+128GB Fusion Drive for $250 extra. I think it’s unacceptable.

I’d love to see the Fusion Drive standard in every iMac, but that’s not going to happen in the current form — the cost is prohibitive. Honestly, though, who needs a terabyte of space on their computer? Some people do, but I bet most don’t even use half of that space. And you don’t need 128GB SSD to get a big boost in performance. All you need is to put your OS, apps and their configuration files there. 128GB is nice, but when you also have a hard drive for everything else, 64GB is plenty. As a user of a Mac Mini super-charged with a 64GB SSD, I can attest that.

And given that:

Mac Mini


Can’t wait to see how much of this I got wrong.

I did my best to try to guess Apple’s strategy, but let’s not forget how good they are at surprising, delighting (and sometimes disappointing) us.

And not that I would mind. I love surprises — don’t you?

Am I missing something? Did I screw up the facts? Let me know.

Big thanks to Rinat Khanov for reading my drafts

Published September 03, 2013. Send feedback.